Small businesses and start up enterprises were afforded over €500,000 in state funding last year, new figures reveal.
According to previously unseen documentation obtained by the Leader this week, Longford County Enterprise Board sanctioned approximately €350,000 in grant assistance to 31 fledgling companies over the course of 2012.
A further €180,000 in training, mentoring and various other networking supports was similarly set aside by the state funded body to assist small firms during the same period.
Its chief executive, Michael Nevin was keen to play down the figures, saying the past calendar year brought with it a mixed set of results for local business.
“Overall, 2012 was a very difficult trading year for small firms with many struggling with the same contentious issues that have plagued them since the start of the current recession,” he said.
At the head of these, Mr Nevin confided, included difficulties facing many start-ups in securing finance from banks and other lending institutions, getting paid on time, spiralling energy costs and business rate demands.
Consequently, the county enterprise board chief admitted 2013 could prove to be the most challenging facing local business with consumer confidence levels also diminishing.
“We did lose a number of micro-enterprises during 2012 and while it was sad to see any business close, it is particularly sad to see a small family owned business shut its doors, often at considerable financial and personal cost to the owner,” he added.
“Many other small firms continue to trade despite extraordinary financial pressures and relatively bleak prospects and the Enterprise Board has an important role in assisting these businesses to reach more sustainable platforms.”
That said, Mr Nevin stressed the inroads made by a number of firms locally last year had given some cause for optimism.
“There were some success stories in 2012 particularly for businesses that have an export focus or those feeding into multi-nationals with strong export books,” he said, as he urged government leaders to press ahead with job stimulus plans.
Details of the substantial cash injection comes amid ongoing pressures facing the wider local economy, something which generated much debate at last week’s monthly county council meeting.
Following on from a previous Longford Town Council debate, Cllr Paul Connell renewed calls for a special meeting with the county’s top ten employers.
This, he said, was needed in order to curb rising jobless figures and improve Longford’s attractiveness to prospective entrepreneurs.
“The town is going down, Longford is slipping very fast,” he told fellow councillors at last Wednesday’s meeting.
“There are several infrastructural pieces that we need for people to locate in this town. What I am asking for is that this local authority proactively engages in a restructuring and realignment process that will help Longford County Council build on its reputation as a pro-business county.”